It all came down to one night.
After seven stops, nearly 10,000 miles logged and a ton of racing, the chase for Nitro Jam’s professional championships all came down to Saturday’s competition at the CarSafe Northern Nitro Jam at U.S. 131 Motorsports Park.
After Friday’s event was rained out, Nitro Jam’s professional teams had one less day to make up ground in the championship chase making for a frantic – and very exciting – showdown in front of a packed house as a near capacity crowd watched Bill Evans (Pro Fuel Dragster), Peter Gallen (AMSOIL Prostalgia Nitro Funny Car), Kyle Hough (Nostalgia Fuel Altered) and Jay Turner (Nitro Harley) seal the 2012 Nitro Jam professional championships at the CarSafe Northern Nitro Jam.
Of the four champions only Turner turned Saturday into a double, winning the event in addition to clinching the championship. Saturday’s other event winners included Kristen Dennis in Pro Fuel, Greg Jacobsmeyer in AMSOIL Prostalgia Nitro Funny Car and Mike Hilsabeck in Fuel Altered.
Evans and Turner sealed their championships trophies prior to Saturday’s grand finale and Gallen did the same after just one pass, but 19-year-old rookie and third generation racer Kyle Hough had to go a different route.
Holding a nine-point lead over Ron Maroney entering the weekend, Hough was left in a precarious position when he lost first round and Maroney advanced. That first round mishap left just enough room for Maroney to make it interesting and control his own destiny.
But in the final pass of the night Maroney smoked the tires and Hilsabeck drove to the win with a 6.236/204.43, giving Hough the championship by the slimmest of margins – a single point.
“This means so much to me and my family,” Hough said. “My grandpa (Dave) has won a championship, my dad (Rick) has won a championship and now I have won one in the same car with the ‘Nanook’ name on the side. That means so much to me that I was able to win this for them and these great fans. This sport is all about the fans and to win this in front of this incredible crowd is unbelievable.”
Hough’s accomplishment was all the more impressive when you consider that his championship trophy was his first award of the year. Hough visited seven finals in 2012, but finished runner-up in each one. But on Saturday it was consistency over flash as Hough was able to add to the long legacy of the Hough name and the legend of the “Nanook” Fuel Altered.
“It was certainly frustrating to go all season and not win a single race. We were so close so many times and we had a good car at a lot of races, but we ran into a problem here or a bad run there that left us short,” Hough said. “To turn that around and win this championship helps makes up for that frustration. I have to remind myself that I am only starting out, although I was talking to Del Worsham the other day and he told me he won his first title at age 20 and I am only 19 so I can’t wait to give him a call.”
Peter Gallen, of Broomall, Pa., also had to wait until Saturday to clinch a title, but he didn’t have to wait nearly as long. On the very first pass of the evening Gallen was able to seal his second straight AMSOIL Prostalgia Nitro Funny Car championship as Gallen advanced to the final with a very fast 5.927/244.96 as contender Mike Savage in the “Candies & Hughes” Barracuda was relegated to the consolation round.
In the final Gallen smoked the tires for the second straight race and Greg Jacobsmeyer in the “All Star Dodge” was able to cruise right down Broadway with a 6.220/231.40 to take his second win of the year. Despite the disappointing finish, it was still an Ironman for Gallen and the “Poverty Stricken” team at the end of the night.
“This definitely isn’t the way we wanted to end the year, but we are still very happy to have this opportunity to win two of these in a row,” Gallen said. “This is an all volunteer crew and I couldn’t do this without them. They work tirelessly on this car and it is my job to go out there and make them proud. Nobody likes losing, but it happens.
“Overall this was an enjoyable season. We had some issues with the new car at times, but we worked through it and hopefully we can continue to turn this car into the same consistent machine we saw last year. This is really all for my crew.”
In the consolation round Savage won on a bye and Troy Martin defeated Mike McIntire.
Pro Fuel Dragster saw the most intriguing contest of the evening as Bill Evans, riding a streak of final rounds made at every race he has attended in 2012, was stunned to watch opponent Kristen Dennis blow the doors off of the place with a 5.193/273.68 to advance to the final and move Evans into his first consolation round of the season.
While Dennis went on to pick up the win, her second straight at the Northern Nitro Jam, with a 5.306/273.81 in the “Laides First” entry to Robin Samsel’s 5.434/262.08, Evans was able to add to his trophy collection with his second career championship.
“This class is so unpredictable as we saw here earlier tonight. You never know what you are going to get out of these things and all of a sudden we are not in a final for the first time all year,” Evans said. “We made a goal at the beginning of the year to win every race in 2012 and while we definitely didn’t do that, we did make every round except for this one which says a lot about this team. It was a difficult year with a rotating crew and a few problems we couldn’t quite figure out on the car, but we are still very proud of what we accomplished and look forward to really taking this up another notch next season.”
Evans won the consolation round over Cherissa Smallwood. But it was Dennis who really set things on fire with another win at U.S. 131.
“We were really nervous on our first pass and I don’t know where that number came from, but it says a lot about the hard work these guys put in on this car,” Dennis said. “Saturday must be our night here at this track as we won here again and that is really exciting. The car was great and obviously we are happy to come away from here with another win.”
Wrapping up Saturday’s CarSafe Northern Nitro Jam was the daredevils of the Nitro Harley class. Jay Turner came into the event with a sizable gap over defending champion Steve Dorn and he showed why Saturday night, setting low ET of the night while cruising to his sixth win of the year, the most by any pro in 2012.
“Nobody gave us much of a chance at the beginning of the year with this new bike, but we proved that it is consistent and it can be really fast,” Turner said. “We have proven all season long that this bike is the real deal and we showed them again tonight. It was exciting to cap the year with a win and to win this trophy means a lot to me and my guys. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Turner finished the season with two near-identical passes on the “Big Pig” Nitro Harley, blasting a 6.387/209.93 and a 6.349/211.09 in the final over a struggling Jake Stordeur who had to shut it off near halftrack to get the double. And the scary part? This is only the beginning for this team.
“We can do big things with this bike and next year we are going to step it up even more and do things that have never been done before in this class,” Turner said.
Saturday wrapped up the season for the Nitro Jam professional teams, while sportsman racers still have a full day of racing on Sunday with a spot in the Summit Racing Equipment Tournament of Champions presented by AMSOIL on the line. Dew Saturday night forced the first sportsman race to be finished up on Sunday joining a second Pro-Am already on the schedule.